Alaska Cruise Report: Tracy Arm & Ford’s Terror Wilderness

From the National Geographic Sea Bird in Alaska July 3, 2010

Otherworldly is an idea that conveys something of what one feels in a landscape that is different from our usual experience of the world. The great vistas at the head of Tracy Arm are so vast and intimately connected to geologic time that there is a dreamlike quality so close to glaciers. The Zodiacs glide along the steep fiord walls dotted with impossibly bright spots of wildflowers growing out of sheer rock. Today the dwarf fireweed and red paintbrush are blooming and clumps of magenta and red are striking against the dark rock. All around us float bits of glacial ice while larger deep blue and frosted green icebergs are reminiscent of art deco glass sculptures. Low clouds drape the glacially rounded shoulders of the mountains high above us.

Ten thousand years ago, the ice was four thousand feet thick where we are sitting in our inflatable boats. Hanging above us, we can see several U-shaped valleys that were tributaries to the main inlet, and all around us waterfalls cascade off the mountains.

In the aquamarine water made opaque by fine glacial sediments, a number of harbor seals are swimming. These rounded pinnipeds come into the fiords in May to bear their pups on the floating ice. The young seals are pretty much weaned by now and soon they’ll head out to join the many species that feed on the annual runs of salmon beginning to gather near the mouths the spawning streams.

The afternoon was a mix of packing, kayaking, hiking, and if you are under 18, Zodiac driving! There was much evidence of bears on the blueberry studded trails, and along the forest edge; the bright, tempting treats of summer salmonberries were begging to be eaten. The bears have been dining on the salmonberries too, and many bulbs and roots of the chocolate lilies and angelica have been dug and consumed by bears. Like the seals, they await the arrival of migrating salmon – over 70% of their yearly nutrient comes up the nearby streams. So much of this wonderful place is connected by the yearly returns of these anadramous fish.

Tonight we too enjoy the bounty of Southeast Alaskan salmon and can think about our own new connections – to new friends, new family stories and a new appreciation for this wilderness place.

Interested in this itinerary? Check out the details…


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